Insights / Circularity
Meet Sweden’s first Doctor in fashion redesign
Researcher and designer Anna Lidström’s thesis Redesign Foundations explores all the nooks and crannies of fashion redesign. Its theoretical foundation and experimental design research have landed her the accolade as Sweden’s first Doctor of Fine Art in fashion design, focusing on redesign.
5 Sep 2023

Who are you?

I am a researcher, lecturer, designer, and artist, whose work focuses on sustainable fashion design. My specialisation is in the field of redesign, reuse, and resource recovery from a design perspective, or, a practitioner perspective.

You’ve just presented a very special thesis, Redesign Foundations and became Sweden’s first Doctor in redesign. What is it that you’ve created?

— The resources used by redesign approaches are whatever existing materials or products are ’at hand’, regardless of whether they are used or surplus. The material scope of the thesis is outlined by the term garment materials. It means that if fabric by the metre is a conventional design material that allows the designer to select colour, texture, weight, print, amount of material, and such. Then, a garment material is whatever garment at hand, something already designed and may be in ever-shifting conditions, qualities, and quantities, regardless of whether it is constituted by surplus products or post-consumer waste, Lidström explains. She continues:

— When working with garments, it does not matter whether it is entirely unique or many like it exists — what you have at hand is what you start designing with. The redesign process can be repeated many times if more of the material is found. However, the basic principle here is that the material, for instance the garment, comes first.

— The thesis explores challenges for conventional design methods and design thinking in redesign processes and introduces a contribution to the development of the methodological foundations of redesign. The subject has previously been looked upon from other disciplines, but not in a systematic way from design. The redesign perspectives and methods explored within my research concern novel expressions and working methods in redesign that both have an impact on educational developments, as well as on design processes in the design area of the industry. The work focuses on defining design potential in waste materials, surplus production, and product elements as well as design methodology for processing waste materials, surplus production and product elements for reuse and redesign. The theoretical foundation developed in the thesis is also in turn based on the results and findings from my earlier and ongoing teaching in higher education and innovation projects in the industry.

Can you share any key takeaways?

— Garments, or any existing products, are often thought of as the end point of a design process but need to be reconsidered to be the creative starting point of a redesign process. We need to develop new vocabulary and design methods to enable new business models. My dissertation is a contribution to the hands-on design development of the field.

— The results of my research point out that traditional fashion design processes, methods, and terminology are problematic when designing with garment materials. The existing methods are based on garment materials used as sketches and in mood board-type processes. Or used as templates to create garments when using other virgin materials. Novel ways of understanding the resources and expressive properties in the tangible raw material for redesign — something already designed, are less considered. On the basis of the theoretical findings, the work introduces examples of alternative design techniques and tools for redesign and reflects on fashion as a practice from a redesign perspective. The theoretical contribution is the following:

— Basic concepts or perspectives in the design process that need to be changed and form the basis for the development of different types of design methodology that can handle redesigning raw materials.

— Basic design methodology. My own methodology for design, construction, or way of sketching is an example based on the suggested concepts of Vamping, Sampling, and Mapping. 

— Alternative design language. A new clothing and fashion ’language’ is needed that shows the way to design possibilities and a changed view of product development expressions from reuse.

— The applied or practical contributions are working methods, and design examples that show design possibilities and the potential of the methodology.

What was the initial reason why you started working on the thesis?

— The interest in circular environmental systems in the fashion industry has grown in recent years. There exist several models and activities for a more cyclical economy that focus on different forms of resource recovery and waste hierarchies. However, a lot of effort is put into research with a focus on the mechanical or chemical recycling of textile fibres. The downside is that these processes are often much more energy-consuming than the process of producing virgin polyester. These methods may also provide environmental savings over virgin material production, but the quality and consistency of the fibres are difficult to obtain. The recycled material is more often used as insulation materials and mattress stuffing where more refined textile qualities are not required, says Lidström. She continues:

— The research is carried out through experimental design research, in combination with theoretical considerations. Design exploration and development are conducted by design students and the author, me, by practising various aspects of design methods in redesign processes. 

— The design results have been analyzed together with accounts and reflections to find central concepts in design thinking that present existing challenges and future possibilities for redesign methods.

— Or, to put it short, we need to make use of overproduction — more energy efficient and redesigning is more efficient than recycling on the fibre level.

Anna Lidström after being appointed a Doctor of Fine Art in fashion design, focusing on redesign.

You’ve created three special methods. Can you explain more about them? 

Vamping — garment material as a canvas. A refurbishment approach to existing garments encompasses dyeing, detaching, or attaching shoulder pads, changing zippers and buttons, mending holes, altering the fit, making a new neckline, and adding embroidery or a graphical element such as a print. In essence, design actions and adjustments are in line with the original purpose and function of the material. This vamping approach can vary from primarily exploring the garment material as a canvas — limiting alterations to the surface of the material rather than altering its structure or overall form, to making smaller adjustments to the form and silhouette. 

The Vamping method, as shown in the thesis.

Sampling fabric and pattern pieces. It refers to the process of placing block pattern pieces on flat, disassembled garments in order to extract different forms. It can also include paying attention to specific details that might be useful or being guided by the placement of pattern blocks, which become the material pieces for a new design. You can describe it as a process of analysis that involves selecting a suitable garment material for a predefined design goal or process.

Mapping — making the material as flexible as possible. By opening the garments through cutting, the method aims to build on and use of design potential of the expressive richness of existing garment elements, such as textures, seams, cuts, graphical aspects, trims, collars, and pockets. The cutting makes ’fixed’ garment forms into ’flexible’ garment materials, without removing the significant material features and details. Mapping opens up new design directions and dimensions and gives the original forms of garment materials the opportunity to expand, contract, fold, and flex in ways that were previously not possible. This approach can be said to involve relatively extensive changes to the forms and uses of the garment materials, with end results that are quite far from the form and use of the original garment.

The Mapping method.

How can companies use these methods to improve their circularity work?

— By teaching the designers and buyers how to design and procure from their own surplus production, other brands’ waste, or their own customers’ wardrobes. However, the different redesign approaches presented in my thesis are very interesting to look at from a commercial point of view, in terms of how collections and product ranges can be divided and framed. A typical model for this is based on the shape of a triangle, which is something that I have seen in use during my time working at several companies as a designer.

— The so-called Base is where the volume lies, the ’carry-over’ styles that are repeated over many seasons but updated with new colours and so on. The Trend is less a case of volume but still relatively fashionable, and expressive within the current trend and season. The Key consists of relatively few ‘top products’, which are intended to really pinpoint the trend — the ’spot on’. This triangle model can be viewed in relation to pricing, with less expensive, basic-looking styles at the base and more expensive, expressive styles at the top. The different redesign approaches could also be placed in the same model.

It seems fair to say that the ’circular transition’ isn’t fast enough. What’s required to speed up things here?

— Everything, all at once! But most of all I believe that design development is crucial to demonstrate the potential of existing products as design resources. That will enable motivation for new business models to arise. We need to give form to the future and challenge the norms and current system. How can we convince others who lack the capacity to ’see’ if ’we’ don’t show how it could and should be done?

— Here we have a couple of Swedish brands that have, if not inspired bigger enterprises, at least inspired fashion design students and alumni startups to further explore redesign and remake as a field within sustainable fashion. And this on a global scale. Rave Review, Hodakova, and All-in Studio amongst others. I also believe that the EU legislation will speed up the transformation big time, and from what I hear from collogues and people in the fashion industry this has created a ’positive stress’ to speed up the transformation.

Will consumer demands also be important? 

— The consumer of today is much more aware than before, but I do believe that presenting interesting designs and innovative products and collections is still a way to go about, to attract new target groups. In recent years, design-driven sustainable development has gained more power, and that gives me great confidence and encouragement to further research this area and topic. The brands need to listen to their consumers, but they also need to be brave enough to offer other types of products and business models, that the customers can’t imagine themselves. 

After finishing this, what else do you have coming? 

— I am currently working on a research project, called AI for Textile Remake, which is super exciting! It investigates the technical and esthetical possibilities for an automated remake of used clothes, based on my redesign principles, the mentioned Vamping, Sampling and Mapping.

— AI is crucial for both the sorting and the redesigning of used clothes in this automated remake line setup. It proposes how a test facility could be built with Artificial Intelligence solutions as a central part, both for detecting defects on secondhand garments, but also how to generating design solutions based on these defects. This is a research project within the Circular Movement and Mikrofabriker Project at Science Park Borås, investigating whether with the help of automation, such as robotics, digitization and other technologies, it is possible to create profitable and small-scale textile production in Sweden. 

Read the full thesis here